(CNSNews.com) - After his late entry into the Democratic primary race, retired Gen. Wesley Clark has zoomed to the top of some primary poll match-ups. But in New Hampshire, the first state to host a primary, Clark is trailing in third place.
That could put Clark at risk nationally, said Andy Smith of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
"Immediately [after the January 27 primary, the candidates] have to disperse themselves across the country, run essentially tarmac campaigns, and TV advertising," Smith said.
New Hampshire is more important this year, Smith believes, as the next spate of eight primaries follow just one week later on February 3.
"Candidates aren't going to have any time to either consolidate gains that they made in New Hampshire; or they're not going to have any time, if they don't win in New Hampshire, to be able to convince people in those other states that they should be paid attention to," Smith predicted.
"The candidate who wins New Hampshire or the candidate who can spin their finish in New Hampshire ... is going to do better in other states," said Smith.
Smith attributes the favoritism of Dean and Kerry to their long and vigorous campaigning in the state, as well as the fact that state Democrats are more liberal than Democrats in other areas of the country.
"So when you get a guy like Wesley Clark, who's positioning himself as a moderate Democrat, someone who could get elected against George Bush in November, well, there aren't that many moderate Democrats in New Hampshire to appeal to," said Smith.
Iowa's presidential caucus is Jan. 19. Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Carolina will hold Feb. 3 primaries, while New Mexico and North Dakota hold caucuses on that day.
A Gallup poll conducted Oct. 6-8 found Clark with 21 percent of the Democratic vote nationwide, followed by Dean (16 percent), Joe Lieberman (13 percent), and Kerry (13 percent).
In match-ups against President Bush, an earlier Newsweek poll showed Clark a bit closer to besting the president than any other Democrat. Forty-nine percent of registered voters favored Bush, compared with 43 percent for Clark. Against Kerry, Bush garnered 50 percent support, compared to 42 percent for Kerry.
But there's ample evidence the candidates aren't putting all their eggs in the New Hampshire basket.
The Oct. 9 primary debate was held in Phoenix, Ariz. And there's been a steady parade of Democratic hopefuls to South Carolina.
Kerry chose Charleston to formally announce his candidacy. Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) made it an early campaign stop, and Clark visited the Citadel military academy in Charleston, his second campaign stop. Even Rev. Al Sharpton is reportedly a frequent campaigner.
Indeed, South Carolina could be the fallback state for candidates who strike out in Iowa and New Hampshire.
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